Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Green Monsters

We huddled in the shed like green monsters. A single opaque window glowed the color of corn silk.

I sucked each purified breath through valves and canisters and activated charcoal, each exhale echoing inside my gas mask. A chemical warfare suit hung heavy on my frame. Sweat collected in the fingers of my rubber gloves. My nose twitched and itched inside the impenetrable shell.

The sergeant explained in muffled tones that this gear might one day save our lives. He told a story about giving this same drill to some officers. How he gassed the fuck out of the shed with tear gas to really show them the business. How they cried like a bunch of pansies when they took off their masks.

With that, he pulled the pins on two black canisters and set them on the ground. Pink smoke fumed from the canisters like clouds of cotton candy.

"This shit works," said the sergeant, tapping the clear shield of his mask. His eyes were small and dark and darting. "We're going to work left to right and then front to back. When I call you up here, you take off your mask and answer the question I ask before leaving the room. Answer the fucking question... You clueless jokers understand?"

We bobbed our gas-masked heads inside the now rose-colored room.

I found myself dead center of the group. I'd have a chance to see how things would go for the other soldiers, to see what kinds of questions he'd ask.

He asked one of the same three questions over and over: Last name? Rank? Hometown?

Without fail, some burly guy would take off his mask and run out without answering the simple question. I laughed each time this happened. These were the same pussies that passed out during inoculations, crumbling to the floor in their tighty-whiteys because of a shot.

I'd etched my responses in my brain. I was prepared when my turn came. I would answer my question and split.

My heart beat faster as I approached. I fought to inhale one last deep breath. I removed my gas mask. A cloud of purified air surrounded my head, and the corners of my mouth raised in a smile, as if pulled by marionette strings.

The gas hit my face. And my skin burned. And my eyes burned. And my nose burned. And my lungs burned.

Fire. Fire. Fire. Fucking fire. Everything was on fire.

"Last four of your social security number?" asked the sergeant.

Confused, I gasped and coughed and ran from the shed without even trying to answer.

I emerged exoculated, a stumbling blind Oedipus. My hands clawed at the darkness. I fell to my knees, ashamed. Snot hung from my nose like thick strings of egg white. Tears wet my face. I hacked and coughed and spit.

I waited for the pain to subside. I worried that I'd made a fool of myself, that people were laughing at me.

As the world blurred into focus, I saw that everyone was blind and crying and snotting and falling to their knees.

And I wondered to myself: Is this the way the world ends?


  1. Just for future reference, is there any kind of writing you can't do?

  2. That's imagery is eerie and the writing is intense as usual. As I was reading "Fire. Fire. Fire." Johnny Cash was wailing "...and it burns, burns, burns..." from my CD player. Coincidence?

  3. Wait, were you in the military? Sarge was, 101st Airborne. He has told me a story almost identical to this. One of the experiences that had the biggest impact on him mostly because, as he says, it made him know for real the effectiveness of that gas mask.

    He also told me that his drill sergeant fucked with them after the masks came off--made small talk before asking the question.

    "So, how you doing soldier?" "fine" (eyes squeezed shut) "Where are you from?" "NJ" etc...all standing in the gas. Kinda cruel, but I guess they wanted to make sure the soldiers actually breathed the gas in...

    This is really well written. I even showed it to Sarge. Ah, memories...

  4. Hi, MLS. I try to mix it up. Just my ADD at work.

    Hi, Amber. Ring of Fire is the perfect song for this one.

    Hi, Eva. Thanks.

    Hi, Leah. Yes, ma'am. I was in the USAF for four years. And that was definitely the point, to illustrate the effectiveness of the gear. It worked.

  5. ouch. you captured the moment well! i could almost feel the burning gas.

  6. I wore one once for Halloween (tacky, tasteless post anthrax costume but also super funny) and it was maddening inside that thing. I couldn't leave it on for very long. I imagine knowing what it's like to get gassed makes it much easier to leave on. Great writing, as always, my dear.

  7. Hi, p.ham. Thanks. That burning gas was no joke.

    Hi, Gwen. Yeah, they're horribly uncomfortable but quite effective.

  8. I resent your talent. This is possibly your finest post, writing-wise. 10/10.

  9. Hi, Jimmy. Thanks. That's nice of you to say. I won't ask how the Russian judge is scoring it. ;)

  10. Yeah, I like that. That's quality. I'm going to have to go back and read everything I missed while I've been away!

  11. that sounds sooo painful. sorry you had to go through that. (i miss those suspension belts :)

  12. Very nice Hunter. I want to say more but really what more is there to say to someone so talented?

  13. You were an air force man! Awesome. It's the branch of military I think is the most interesting mainly because planes are involved and that is just plain cool.

    This was a great post. Was it a real event in your life? I assume so.

  14. Hi, TIR. Thanks. I'm glad you liked this one. Thanks again for your feedback on the other stuff. I'm actually waiting to hear a date for online publication of a story with FTR.

    Hi, Sarah. Yeah, it hurt.

    Hi, Melissa. Glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for your kind words.

    Hi, VA. Yeah, it happened in real life. The strange thing is that it's actually a very funny story when I tell it in person. It just didn't seem to want to be funny when I started writing it...

  15. Wow, Hunter. Brilliant post. I'm always a fan of writing which transports the reader right to that moment. Felt i was there too. Excellent.

    I am mighty impressed. Write a book now. :)

  16. Well the word 'exoculated' is now permanently etched on my psyche.

    Well told - I felt your pain!

    When did this happen?

  17. Hi, Lou. With a layoff coming my way next month, I hope to get more writing done.

    Hi, Uber. 'Exoculated' was probably too fancy a word to put in there. I actually remember flipping through a dictionary many years ago and that word jumped out at me and stuck in my brain.

    As for the tear gas incident, I guess it was about 15 years ago. Geez, I'm an old fart.

  18. Thanks for the memory Hunter.. I feel like it was only yesterday that I went through that "chamber"! Dang if I can even remember the question that I was asked lol.. all I can remember is that my lungs were on fire, I couldn't breathe and... where's the exit!!
    Great post!


  19. Hi, Aion. Can't imagine anyone forgetting an experience like that. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.